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Marks out of 10 - Up close and personal

Features | Published in TES Newspaper on 7 May, 2010

Rainforest Life

10am-5:30pm

£19 adults, £15.50 children, children under-three free

www.zsl.org/zsl-london-zoo

By Hina Pandya

Enter London Zoo's redesigned Rainforest Life area and you are immediately surrounded by a world teeming with life, colour and movement. The mix of wildlife is enchanting and no two visits are ever the same.

Its open feel and realistic setting inspires and encourages a relationship with the rainforest, its animals and plants that would otherwise only be seen in books, on television or online.

This no-bars, no-glass experience recreates a humid 27 degC rainforest with flora and fauna straight from Costa Rica, including thousands of specimens of insect life.

From the treetop canopy visitors can observe the southern tamandua - a tree-climbing anteater purposely circling the forest undergrowth; the curly-white moustached emperor tamarin jumping from tree to tree and the two-toed sloth, hanging lazily from sturdy branches.

When it is quiet, the golden-headed lion tamarin monkeys and grey-winged trumpeter birds jump out of the forest and on to the walkway. A young boy sits on the footpath to get a closer look at a monkey; the monkey stares back. They sit, fascinated by each other for several minutes.

The trumpeter birds walk fearlessly among the visitors. They are renowned for making an almighty noise and are often used on farms in South America instead of guard dogs.

The space is filled with the excited chatter of children and adults, and cameras whirr as visitors try to capture the animals and birds on film.

Nocturnal creatures can be found behind glass in the darkened area downstairs. Scurrying mice and moles, a cave of crickets, flying bats and creepy cockroaches may make the flesh crawl, but they provide a good insight into rainforest activity at night.

Two of the more unusual creatures are the fish with no eyes and the cute Bambi-like furry loris. The "blind" cave fish use a special sense organ to detect movement and are lacking pigment, taking on a pink hue from the blood vessels beneath their skin.

The slow loris, a tree-dwelling creature, has the most beguiling large eyes, helping it to make the most of every drop of light. It is an endangered species and the zoo is helping to conserve the diminishing population in Sri Lanka through its Edge of Existence programme.

Visitors reading the wall displays learn that the rainforest is home to half of all animal species on Earth and to 1.6 billion of the world's poorest people.

According to scientists, the rainforest may also be home to plants that will be the source of future medication. Alarmingly, the rainforests are being destroyed at the rate of two rugby pitches a second. If this continues, half the remaining forests will be gone by 2025 and the rest by 2060. Stopping the deforestation now could reduce carbon emissions by 17 per cent.

Visitors have the option of paying an additional £1.80 donation to support conservation work, so they can feel virtuous as well as enlightened.

Rainforest Life has a teaching room where zoo education officers provide sessions lasting 30 minutes for primary children and 40 minutes for secondary school pupils. Study days are also available for post-16s.

THE VERDICT: 9/10.


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